June 8, 2017
Businessman says alleged embezzler violates “trust”
Photo/Don Del Rosso
Philip Rutter says he discovered in February that the defendant wrote “numerous” checks to herself, many of them for $1,000 or more.
Warrenton police in February charged Margie Susan Ryder of Linden with embezzlement.
It’s not about the money. It’s about trusting somebody, trusting the integrity of somebody that would do something low down. My business is like a little family. It hurts.
— Philip Rutter, Warrenton Heating and Air owner
• Defendant: Margie Susan Ryder, 38, of Linden.
• Victim: Warrenton Heating and Air Conditioning.
• Details: Beginning in April 2015, Mrs. Ryder — the HVAC contractor’s in-house “accountant” — allegedly embezzled $79,300 from Warrenton Heating and Air over a 22-month period. Warrenton police arrested her Feb. 24.
• Charge: One count of felony embezzlement for writing “a check to herself for the amount of $400 without the permission of (business) owner Philip Rutter" on April 30, 2015, according to the arrest warrant. Conviction on a felony embezzlement charge could result in up to 20 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.
• Defense attorney: Mrs. Ryder has no defense lawyer. Fauquier County General District Court Judge Richard T. Horan on Wednesday postponed a preliminary hearing on the case until July 5 to give the defendant time to hire a defense lawyer.
• Prosecutor: Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Jamey Cook.
The Warrenton heating and air conditioning business owner feels a deep sense of betrayal.
Philip Rutter, who founded Warrenton Heating and Air Conditioning 49 years ago, decided in 2009 to hire a part-time, in-house “accountant” to help his mother with the company’s financial records.
Among other things, Margie Susan Ryder would pay routine bills and file federal and state tax returns, including his personal documents, Mr. Rutter said in an interview Wednesday.
But, the IRS in 2016 and 2017 notified the company that it had failed to pay federal withholding taxes, he said.
Mr. Rutter said he questioned Mrs. Ryder about the first letter.
“I asked her, ‘What’s this?’,” he said.
Brushing aside the matter, Mrs. Ryder allegedly told him: “ ‘Phil, it’s a computer glitch’,” Mr. Rutter recalled. “ ‘I’ll take care of it’. Hey, I trusted her.”
But the second IRS letter, which arrived four months ago, made the 70-year-old businessman suspicious.
Taking matters into his own hands, Mr. Rutter on Tuesday, Feb. 21, visited BB&T’s Main Street branch in Warrenton to review his company’s “operational account” records.
In doing so, he discovered that Mrs. Ryder had used the company’s bank account to write “numerous” checks to herself, many of them for $1,000 or more, without his permission, Mr. Rutter said.
“Then, we went back and put all that stuff together, page by page, check by check,” and gave those documents to the Warrenton Police Department on Thursday, Feb. 23, he said.
The next day town police charged Mrs. Ryder with one count of felony embezzlement for writing “a check to herself for the amount of $400 without” Mr. Rutter’s authority on April 30, 2015, according to the arrest warrant.
Conviction on a felony embezzlement charge in Virginia could result in up to 20 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.
Investigators believe the 38-year-old Warren County woman embezzled about $79,300 from the business over a 22-month period.
“I’ve got a paper trail that thick,” said Mr. Rutter, holding his right thumb and index finger about 5 inches apart.
He and town police moved quickly on the case.
“I went to (the bank) on Tuesday and had her locked up on that Friday,” Mr. Rutter said. “They took her out in handcuffs from my office.”
Until reviewing bank records, he had no reason to believe Mrs. Ryder had been stealing from the company, Mr. Rutter said.
In fact, Mrs. Ryder and his mother, Virginia Rutter, had developed a close friendship.
“My mother loved her,” Mr. Rutter said.
When Mrs. Rutter died in 2011 at the age of 89, Mrs. Ryder and her husband attended his mother’s funeral in Tennessee, the business owner said.
“So, what does that tell you?” Mr. Rutter said.
Mrs. Ryder’s relationship with the company had been based on trust, he said. “She worked for me since 2009. Everything was legit.”
Or so it seemed, he added.
Mrs. Ryder maintained the business financial records with QuickBooks software, according to court documents.
“I’m in the field,” said Mr. Rutter, whose company employs five people. “I’m not a computer guy. I let her get away with too much rein, like you give a horse too much rein. You give a horse too much rein, they run off. She ran alright. She ran with my money.”
Earning $200 a week, Mrs. Ryder each Friday worked two to three hours in the company’s office at 334 Curtis St., he said.
While the alleged embezzlement of $79,300 represents a significant loss, “it’s not going to put me out of business,” Mr. Rutter said. “I think I’m financially stable enough to overcome this.”
But, he added: “It’s not about the money. It’s about trusting somebody, trusting the integrity of somebody that would do something low down. My business is like a little family. It hurts.”
The affidavit for a search warrant of Mrs. Ryder’s home in Warren County also states the defendant “admitted embezzling the money and to also taking financial records and documents that belong to the business to and from her residence.”
Executing search warrants for her home on McDonalds Farm Road, just across the Fauquier County line, and her Ford F-150 pickup truck, police seized four laptop computers, a cell phone and tax documents, according to court records.
Fauquier County General District Court Judge Richard T. Horan on Wednesday postponed a preliminary hearing on the case until July 5 to give Mrs. Ryder time to hire a defense lawyer.
While refusing to discuss the case after Wednesday’s court proceeding, Mrs. Ryder said: “People can tell you what they want to tell you. That doesn’t always mean it’s true.”
The defendant remains free on bond.
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citizen observer · June 9, 2017 at 3:52 pm
She wrote “numerous” checks to herself, many of them for $1,000 or more, without his permission, Mr. Rutter said. Investigators believe the 38-year-old Warren County woman embezzled about $79,300 from the business over a 22-month period.
Why was she only charged with one count of felony embezzlement for writing “a check to herself for the amount of $400 without” Mr. Rutter’s authority? She should have been charged with each one and be facing a lot longer than a 20 year sentence before she plea bargains. It seems like these type of criminals get off easy.
WatchingWarrenton · June 9, 2017 at 2:02 pm
It's not a matter of being too trusting. Maybe it's a matter of not wanting to pay for the true cost of hiring a professional. "Word of mouth" doesn't count for much. Ask for credentials. Check references. Verify. People who you can count on, often have solid skills for which they should be adequately compensated. Cheap may not be "cheap" in the long run.
As for the number of attorneys who are embezzling from friends and clients, the James Kincheloe's and Lorenzo Lee Bean's out there, report it to the lawyer disciplinary committee and keep after them. The Virginia State Bar has a way of covering up for their own.
Bekemp · June 9, 2017 at 7:15 am
I've spent almost my entire 40 career thinking about, and trying to prevent and/or quickly detect, fraud in the workplace. My theory:
95% of people are honest 100% of the time, 4% of people will attempt fraud if they believe there is nobody watching but will not attempt it if there are reasonable controls in place, and 1% will attempt fraud regardless of controls.
Two things to consider:
1. Unfortunately, the honest 95% look and act exactly like the other 5%. They are male and female, they are introverted and extroverted, they are from all ages, races and religions.
2. Because of #1, you need controls for all 100% of the workers if you want to significantly reduce the likelihood of fraud. The honest 95% may be offended by this, and frankly, these controls require more time and effort by the owner.
Owners of small businesses:
Reconcile your cash accounts, credit card activity and inventory regularly, without prior notice.
Reconsider giving away cash-signing authority or credit card usage authority, or at very least, require your signature or prior approval of all expenditures above a certain amount. Follow-up to make sure this happens.
I'm sorry this happened to Mr. Rutter, and I'm sorry that people steal, but human nature of 5% will prevail unless you run your business carefully.
BJ · June 8, 2017 at 6:37 pm
Wow, another fox in the henhouse. Ya'll are too trusting around here. Times have changed and not for the good in many circumstances. A thief is a thief no matter how you spin it Mrs. Ryder. Mrs. Ryder said: “People can tell you what they want to tell you. That doesn’t always mean it’s true.” Your actions speak louder then words.
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